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We’ve got to be carefully taught to hate and fear, as well as how to love and respect people

The words from a musical come to mind as the school year begins, as we sort memories of 10 years ago and since Sept. 11, and as we joined in Spokane’s Unity in the Community celebration of diversity.

What do these have in common?  The song in “South Pacific” tells us “you’ve got to be carefully taught ... to hate and fear.  You’ve got to be taught from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

As our children and grandchildren return to school, what are they being taught beyond the three R’s about life, culture, diversity, respect, community service and world affairs?  What do we teach in our homes and faith communities?  What do we teach in our media, especially as we see replayed images of skyscrapers collapsing?

During this time of remembrance, what will we be remembering?  What have we been carefully taught by seeing again and again and again the images of planes hitting the World Trade Center in New York City.  The twin towers collapsed into rubble once, but we saw it over and over.  What did that do to our psyches and ability to reason? The constant replaying oversimplifies an event.

Despite images of police, firefighters and everyday citizens helping brothers and sisters in that calamity, we remember the simplistic, iconic, media-fed images that fed fear, hate, revenge and war.  Our country and innocent civilians were attacked and killed.  While about 3,000 died that day, our response has been to go far beyond the biblical minimum of “an eye for an eye.”  We don’t have a clear record of the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed far away from us, nor of the millions injured in the crossfire, nor of the damage to infrastructures and cultures, let alone the deaths and injuries to soldiers.

Jesus’ teaching to love enemies has not had repeated press space.  What might our response have been if we followed that teaching?

In the post 9/11 years, we’ve been carefully taught.  We know to beware of repeated images used as propaganda to incite fear and hate, to form enemy images to “justify” war.  We have been in endless, deficit-building war against terrorists tied to a religion and a region.

We have been carefully taught as a nation to fear and hate.  So we lashed out for revenge—at Afghanistan for harboring terrorist training and at Iraq for maybe having weapons of mass destruction—that somehow we were told were connected.

How easily hate- and fear-fed revenge can be diverted to unrelated destruction.  How easily hate and fear can divert our attention from those who profit from the war—through noncompetitive government contracts and assured tax breaks.  Have repeated reminders of the tragedy helped blind us to awareness that the sacrifice has not been shared evenly.

Faiths teach us the ways of peace in hope that such a horrific event will not catapult us into violence. Faiths also connect us globally, making us aware of the plight of the common people, who receive little media coverage beyond natural disasters. 

Our faiths remind us of the need to build understanding across borders, cultures and religions.

Locally, Unity in the Community is an informative, inspiring way to challenge prejudice.  Pictures of diverse people playing, conversing and learning in Riverfront Park need no narration.

From its roots with Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church’s multicultural festival in East Central Spokane’s Liberty Park, the annual event has grown as Community-Minded Enterprises and AHANA, the African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American business association, has taken the neighborhood event to Riverfront Park where an estimated 16,000 people celebrated the the Inland’s growing diversity last month.

Simply by mingling with people, engaging in conversations at booths of nonprofits and cultural organizations, people have a positive way to overcome hate and fear that might lead to conflict. 

Unity in the Community is a proactive, people-to-people way to be carefully taught to set aside fear and hate to overcome racism, intolerance and bigotry.

Mary Stamp - Editor